The Columba Declaration – Ecumenical Agreement Between the Church of Scotland and the Church of England

Russell Starr , CoS & Justin Welby, CoE
Russell Starr , CoS & Justin Welby, CoE

During the current annual Assembly of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), delegates, which included my son, Rev. Daniel Manastireanu, the first ethnically Romanian minister in the CoS, has approved the Columba Declaration, ‘that recognises their longstanding ecumenical partnership and lays the groundwork for future joint projects’ (see HERE). Of the about 850 commissioners to the assembly, 50 voted against this motion and 49 abstained (see HERE). A similar motion was approved by the C of E’s General Synod in February.

St Columba of Iona        St Columba, stained glass at Iona Abbey
Ikon of St Columba, a gift I gave to my son, on his ordination as minister in the CoS, and
St Columba, pictured in a stained glass window at Iona Abbey, which he founded in the sixth century

‘The agreement between the Church of England and the Church of Scotland has been called the Columba Declaration, after Saint Columba [also called Columcille], an Irish abbot and missionary who was credited with spreading Christianity in Scotland. ‘ (see HERE)

David Chillingworth, Russell Barr & Justin Welby
David Chillingworth, Russell Barr, & Justin Welby
Scottish Episcopal, Scottish Presbyterian & Anglican leaders

This ecumenical agreement comes with its own price (historically, there is a lot of water under the bridge between the majority Church of Scotland and the minority Scottish Episcopal Church), as, I would say, is always the case. Thus, as we read in a recent Anglican web publication,

When the two churches announced the Columba Declaration on Christmas Eve, the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church expressed concern at certain aspects of it. This morning, in what was the first ever speech by an Archbishop of Canterbury as part of a debate of the Church of Scotland’s General Assembly, Archbishop Welby apologised for the hurt that was caused for the way that news of the ecumenical agreement had been handled.

You may find HERE some official statements about this declaration made by the Scottish Episcopal Church.

As we could see above, there are also reservations about the declaration within the ranks of the Church of Scotland. Here is what Kelvin Holdsworth, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, writes on this topic in a recent blog post:

In the paper “Growth in Communion, Partnership in Mission” which supports the Columba declaration there are statements about both communion and “apostolicity” which will make many who know and love the Church of Scotland scratch their heads a bit. For example, this statement:

We believe that the celebration of the Holy Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper, is the feast of the new covenant instituted by Jesus Christ, in which the word of God is proclaimed and in which Christ crucified and risen gives his body and blood to the community under the visible signs of bread and wine. ‘In the action of the Eucharist Christ is truly present to share his risen life with us and to unite us with himself in his self-offering to the Father, the one full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice which he alone can offer and has offered once for all.’ In this celebration we experience the love of God and the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ and proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes again and brings his kingdom to completion.

Now, this is unsurprising to Anglican eyes – after all it is a direct quote from the Meissen Agreement with some of the churches in Germany.

But is this really what the Church of Scotland can corporately sign up to as what it says about the Eucharist?

The Westminster Confession of Faith does say rather clearly:

In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same.

What does the Church of Scotland believe about the Eucharist? Is it one thing or the other? Or are presbyterian friends going to try to assert that it believes that in the Eucharist there both is and is not a sense in which the sacrifice of Christ is real?

Very good questions, indeed.

So, was this a perfect move? Of course not. There is no such thing. Could it have been done better? I am sure. Did they have to rush through it, as it seems they did? I have no way to know. Are the two churches better off with it than without it? I hope so, although, it is obvious, not everybody agrees.

May God have mercy!




Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

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